Mr. Lim Ewe Hin is the owner of a vegan restaurant on Rangoon Road in George Town. A trained civil engineer from the University of Mississippi, he was a site engineer for eight years before choosing to commit himself to the cause of feeding people with only the best kinds of food around — food which is meatless, free from dairy, eggs or genetic modification and mostly grown organically. Listen to the person who thinks that taking care of yourself is not necessarily about yourself.
Mr. Lim, could you please tell us a little of your early involvement in food issues and what made you decide to do what you do?
Actually I was working in the construction line. I was a civil site engineer. Then six years ago, I started to join the activities of an American-based organisation called Lapis Lazuli which encourages people to lead a healthy living in terms of mind, body and spirit. I met the founder and became a volunteer to help the sick, especially cancer patients who really needed help and information. I helped her organise talks and everything else. Prepare booklets for free distribution.
How did you come to open this restaurant?
Actually this is just a hobby (laughs). May be in the future I will do more to help promote the organic food movement to the public so that at least people will know more about the organic food concept.
How did you manage to get the right cooks, foods, especially GMO-free foods, such pure ingredients are not easy to find.
In KL, there are some companies which specialise in importing organic products, even dry goods too. We always try to look for ingredients that are free from artificial chemicals and those which have not been genetically modified. My cooks were already trained to cook vegan dishes.
Part of the contacts, I developed during my work with Lapis Lazuli because they also have some volunteers in KL and in other parts of the world. For temperate vegetables I get them from distributors — celeries, carrots, apples, broccolis, cauliflowers, beet root.
Where did the financial support come from?
Finances came from my own savings.
That is interesting. Were you not actually afraid of using your savings, you could have probably bought properties with the money…
Actually I don’t dwell much about the future. I just do what I think is the right thing to do. And go for it. In anyway, I am sure that in the future the market will improve although in the beginning you will have to struggle for quite some time. For the first two years, I would say we were struggling, but by the third year, I think we can break even. No problem.
Don’t you think that opening up a normal restaurant will pose less risk?
I think this is much more interesting. It is something like, we can educate people. And create their awareness, how they can get all the right, healthy foods.
Compared to your years as an engineer, where is the money better?
I think engineering was definitely better… (laughs)
So don’t you miss the money?
I think this is a long-term investment. It starts as a hobby. I may continue my work in engineering later.
How did you actually develop your interest in healthy food issues? What kind of food did you eat when you were young?
I think this issue is very important now. The environment today is so polluted, you know? The air, the water, our food also included. We also have to look at the soil conditions. It is a concept that came out of awareness. I don’t know about early influences. I think it is also some sort of fate, you know? I just met the right people and they gave me the inspiration. My family was not vegetarian.
When did you start being vegetarian? What prompted you to make the choice?
How was the transformation process like?
I am a vegan now. I started by cutting out the meat. Then fish and eggs. Slowly. It took a few months.
Do you think you feel better after cutting out on meat?
Oh yes, of course. I feel more energetic today. And the mind feels much calmer. I also do not get sick anymore. Only minor problems like flu occasionally. I have not been to a doctor for a long time. Before I used to need to go like twice a year. I think people get sick because of bad food, polluted environment and their state of mind.
What do you think about organic meat, you know grass-fed beef, and all that?
Well for me, I think it is better that we try to conserve our natural resources. Meat production needs a lot of water naturally. If we think about people who are dying out of hunger, we would not consume meat. And then there are also compassion issues.
Can you please tell us a bit about your diet?
For breakfast, I usually start with fruits — apples, papayas. But make sure that the sweet and sour don’t mix together. If you want to take sweet fruits, take all the sweet fruits only. This helps your digestion — and better for your stomach enzymes. I try to look for local food if possible, something which grows in my surroundings. Half to one hour later, I take some cereals, like oats. Or may be oatmeal bread. This is because fruits are easy to digest, so you should wait for your stomach to fully digest on them for the nutrients to be fully absorbed. If you mix them with rice or other types of complex foods, the chemical reactions may cause improper digestion, since such foods need a longer time to digest. I always try to be careful with the combination of foods, although this is not always possible. Meat and carbohydrates are not especially a good combination. That is why it is best to be a vegetarian.
Lunch, I eat here at the restaurant. May be during lunch, you can also add some salad. Raw food is especially encouraged. I need to emphasise that it is important for raw foods to be fully organic. Because it will not go through any cooking process. Especially the leafy ones which are directly exposed to chemical sprays.
Dinner, take something light and simple. Don’t take heavy food.
What is the wisdom in having a light dinner? You are always hungriest at dinner…
In fact you should try to take dinner early. Around six or seven. Before going to bed, we should not let our stomach overloaded with food. Another thing I want to stress here is try to take local foods and the least processed food — like brown rice for instance.
Any natural health supplements?
No, I don’t take all these … I think if you take the right food, you don’t have to take all these things. It costs a lot. They may be more expensive than organic food. I think most Malaysians are not really eating well, since they take a lot of hawkers food. And most of us overeat. And that is why all these heart attacks and cancers. Awareness is very important. Prevention is always better than cure, right?
White sugar. White rice. Coffee. Oil. It is very hard to behave yourself. Many people want to take care of themselves but it seems that they simply can’t. There is too much bad food around for your temptation. You know… the moment you walk by a hawker’s stall….
I don’t know. Once, you take organic food, you feel yourself more energetic, and then you don’t feel like taking all these unhealthy foods you know. If you are used to healthy organic food, once you take any bad food, you may feel the effects straightaway. You may suddenly feel sleepy and your body system will reject it. You can see your energy level will go down. I don’t miss all these hawkers food, in fact you will not even feel comfortable after eating them, you feel thirsty. It is more like a burden. If your body is clean enough, it will tell you the truth.
And if you go to parties and functions or family gatherings? How does one preserve oneself? Some people say if I eat like this, I will start to lose my friends…
I think you can get more friends in fact, people who are interested in health issues…
What kinds of problems do you face in running the restaurant?
We have problems of trying to improve variety. It is not easy obtaining purely organic food. We are also lacking in awareness. Some people come only when they are already sick.
We try to make our dishes simple. The ingredients, we do not use MSG, chemicals and colourings. All-natural. The main thing for organic vegetables, you do not have to put so much flavouring, sauce, sugar — then you can taste the real taste. The reason people always have to put so much flavouring in their vegetables to make them taste better is because the vegetables themselves are not pure. People who are not used to this may have some problems in the beginning because their tongues are quite “heavy” already. We also always try to avoid oily food, frying. We deep-fry only a little. We also try to avoid all these artificial, so-called vegetarian meat. I don’t think it is healthy, or natural. I don’t know how they make all these. We are not sure how they flavour these foods.
Do you have any suggestion for the government to encourage people to be more health conscious?
I think they should help out organic farming. Organic farms are not easy to manage. And just like Thailand, they have a King’s project on organic farming. Like myself, I try to import some products from the Thai’s King’s project. But there are so many problems. The transport. The custom problems. For certain foods, like brown rice, you need licence. And because there is no distributor that imports organic food from Thailand, and the amount I need is too small, that creates another problem. Sometimes, like the enzymes, they do not even have a category for them.
I now have some goods in Padang Besar, they have been holding the products for two months already. They still have not released them yet. I hope the food is still okay. Dry goods like kuey teow, soya bean, mee hoon. I think they should be more sympathetic to the importation process of organic food.
And in Malaysia, the organic food movement is not that organised. Anyone can easily claim that their food is organic. In the States and Australia, they have certification bodies.
The government can also hold exhibition and encourage media to report on healthy food issues.
Mr. Lim, some people say why bother to take care of yourself so much, everybody is going to die anyway…
It is not the dying problem, it is how you die, that is the issue. Do you want to die in a peaceful way or in a hospital? If you do not take care of your body, it is not your own problem alone, you will trouble your family friends — dialysis, chemotheraphy, it will also cost a lot. You don’t live only for yourself, you also live for your friends and family members.
Even then they say there is no guarantee… you still cannot know if you will get cancer, so might as well eat all the way, because by the time you get cancer, there is nothing you can eat. Food is pleasure.
Cancer is a problem that affects your whole body. But modern medicine deals it like… you know, like a tree, you have a problem in one part, you simply chop off that part. If you put a stone in a place without sunlight, moss will grow on it. The moss is caused by the environment. If you leave the stone under the sunshine, the moss will go away. In a natural therapy concept, focus is given on changing the whole body, cleansing and detoxifing it and boosting your immune system to cure the illness. If we try to kill it, kill it, kill it... at last, the person does not die because of the disease but because of the drugs. It is as if you are stopping the alarm when the alarm is trying to tell you something.
If you really take care of yourself in the right way, you will not have problems. I think the universal truth is, whether you are a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, there is this idea that whatever you put into the universe, the thing will come back to you — dosa, karma. Taking care of yourself, is not just for you, it also helps other people.
Is spiritual grounding important in life? In staying healthy…
I believe in universal truth. Religion can cause problems also. Sometimes even people from the same religion will fight each other. War. May be this is the result of narrow interpretation. All I know, you should not put your love only in your own mosques, temples or churches. Your love should follow you everywhere you go. Your heart should always be open. If people know that, we will have less problems. In Buddhism, we try to attain enlightenment, free yourself of attachments. Make yourself more compassionate and fill it with love.